Joel Bowman: G’day, Doug. I guess you’re back in Uruguay now after a few weeks on the conference trail. Good to be home?
DC: Home. An interesting concept. Is it where you keep most of your stuff? Is it where most of your friends and family are? Is it just where you’re most comfortable for any number of reasons? Is it where you were born? Perhaps it’s just where you file tax forms. Or a dozen other definitions. But irrelevant for our purposes at the moment. Sorry to distract you…
JB: No worries at all. Readers of these pages probably find themselves asking many of the same questions. But we digress…
Today let us forge ahead with our “REAL State of the Union” project, where we contemplate the United States of 2018 set against the ideals put forth and the freedoms guaranteed in the first ten amendments to the constitution, also known as the Bill of Rights.
As you’ll recall, we broke the First Amendment down into its four component parts; Freedom of Religion, Freedom of Speech, Freedom of the Press and, finally, Freedom of Assembly and the Right to Petition. (Readers who missed the first two installments can catch up here and here.)
The third provision, Freedom of the Press, is our topic for today. Polls routinely show public confidence in the Fourth Estate at multi-generational lows, a narrative Donald Trump has effectively leveraged with the concept of “fake news.” Indeed, the president often seems more comfortable issuing statements via Twitter than in addressing questions in the White House Press room. What do you make of all this?
DC: Joel, so many things have changed recently because of technology. It’s quite brilliant on Trump’s part. He can communicate directly, without having his words filtered, edited, or interpreted by his enemies. In effect he controls his own newspaper with a circulation of tens of millions.
It used to be-- once upon a time-- that major cities would have 10 or 20 newspapers that you'd buy for a couple pennies or maybe a nickel. Even a pauper could afford a copy. Now, it's basically the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and one local paper. The Times and the Journal cost $3-$5—enough to think about-- even though their quality and size have dropped markedly.
What does this mean? Other than the obvious fact that selling news on chopped-up trees is a dinosaur industry.
Last time we discussed some problems the State, and today’s culture, have with the spoken word. Those naturally flow into problems with the written word.
The good news is that we have the Internet. There are no longer just a few papers you can read. There are thousands, actually millions, of blogs, newsletters, and videos online.
This is a good news, bad news kind of thing because everybody's put themselves into a bubble. They just read the things that appeal to their psychology and pre-existing beliefs, making what’s known as confirmation bias easier. Potential bad news.
But you know, it's actually Google and Facebook that have become enemies of the freedom of the press, as much as the US Government. That’s nothing new, in a way. A hundred years ago everybody was afraid that Hearst would buy every paper in the country, and totally control the news. But, as has always been the case, technology—not laws—saved the day.
Technology not only made the cost of printing cheaper, but it made radio and television possible, making papers less important. Now the Internet has done the same. Doubtless something will obviate the Internet too. And soon.
The good news, for now, is that most of what we know—or think we know-- is no longer from the old mass media. The bad news is that what we read and see on the Internet is skewed. Who knows how Google may be subtlely filtering what we see?
It rather underlines my predilection for solipsism, a belief that everything might be just a figment of your imagination. It can make you unsure of what to the nature of reality is. Possibly leading to nihilism, belief in absolutely nothing.
Incidentally, there’s nothing inherently wrong with either solipsism or nihilism. Understanding them forces you to think. Something few reporters seem to do today.
Real reporters are independent, street smart, and thoughtful. They’re supposed actually go out and search for the truth, digging in dirt, traveling the highways and byways. It seems those types no longer exist. They're now just talking heads that repeat each other's opinions. They don’t live in back alleys anymore, they just sit in front of computer screens all day.
JB: Too true. It is almost impossible to imagine someone like, say, H.L. Mencken manning the editorial controls at the Baltimore Sun. Or a Henry Hazlitt type figure burning the midnight oil at the Wall Street Journal or Newsweek or the New York Times, as he did for many decades from the early 1930s onward.
Today we’re left with alleged “thinkers” like Paul Krugman – who predicted the Internet would have no more impact on society than did the fax machine – and Thomas Friedman – who advised the American citizenry to “keep rootin’ for Putin,” hailing the K.G.B. veteran as “Russia’s first Deng Xiaoping” and a strong force for reform.
Is it really any wonder that people so distrust their press?
DC: If the US wasn’t so degraded, Krugman and Friedman would be laughing stocks. We can talk about Putin some time in the future…
Men like Mencken and Hazlitt never took a college course in journalism-- which didn’t exist. Which is evidence that they’re unnecessary. Journalism professors are proof of the old saying that those who can’t do—or failed at it—teach.
Since Seymour Hersh—who did the expose on the My Lai massacre, among other things-- left the fray, investigative reporters have apparently ceased to exist. Reporters have a leftist view of the world because they've all been college educated, in soft subjects like journalism, political science, English, sociology, and the like-- and that's the way they think the world works. That absolutely includes the people that run and work for Google and Facebook.
JB: Amidst the ceaseless Niagara of unquestioning collectivist rhetoric, then, are there any reliable media sources that you gravitate towards? What are the kinds of things that Doug Casey reads with some degree of confidence?
DC: Well, I subscribe to Reason Magazine.com. And what else is there now? Most of my reading isn’t “the news” or current events; that’s just a waste of time, it clutters your mind. I mostly read science and history. Mostly books, but also magazines.
Do you know of anything in current events that's worth the time to read ...?
JB: Hmm. I’m (w)racking my brain…
You know, I recently spoke with a very interesting fellow, Kolya Spöri, who had quite a different take on the current state of the media. He told me he doesn’t trust anything he reads in the press anymore. Instead, he prefers to rely on a dependable network of friends, acquaintances and colleagues he has built up around the world during a lifetime of travel. I thought that was a highly novel idea, to invest confidence only in solid, primary sources.
DC: That's a very good point; he’s a smart guy. Having a network of people you know you can trust—preferably with boots on the ground, and that you trust to interpret what they see with intelligence—is ideal. Infinitely superior to consuming things you’re fed by the mass media. The Internet is making that alternative practical.
And speaking of freedom of the press, of course the government is going to try and do something to regulate Google and Facebook-- which is genuinely a question of the fox watching the hen house. Of course absolutely everything the government does makes things worse. If not immediately and directly, then in a delayed and indirect manner.
Google, Facebook, and similar companies are very convenient pipelines to the NSA and a bunch of other Praetorian agencies. They’re completely hooked up with the government, and one hand washes the other. Government action against them will be cosmetic only. The NSA isn’t about to compromise major assets.
That being the case, the press clause of the First Amendment has lost a lot of its meaning, from a practical point of view. People think of the press as newspapers, not Google, Facebook, etc. But even though these companies are privately owned, they’re really arms of the Deep State—though not the US Government itself. It’s quite perverse.
But I don't automatically believe anything these days, just like Kolya. I suspect that will increasingly be the case for most people.
JB: Mark Twain once quipped: “If you don't read the newspaper, you're uninformed. If you read the newspaper, you're mis-informed.”
I’m not sure an uninformed citizenry preferable to a misinformed one. Could there be a silver lining in there somewhere?
DC: I’m a huge fan of Mark Twain, who was a natural libertarian. As was Will Rogers, who said “The problem isn’t what people don’t know. It’s what they think they know that just ain’t so”.
That’s absolutely true; misinformation is much more destructive than simple ignorance. The best example of that is provided by today’s education system—especially colleges. Once a “factoid”—a piece of false knowledge-- is taught to someone, it’s quite hard for them to unlearn it, and replace it with the truth.
I guess we have to again look at the bright side. The so-called mainstream media is almost completely controlled by statists, socialists, liberals, SJWs, Deep State types, and the like. That’s the bad news for those of us that believe in economic, political, and social liberty. The good news is that the mainstream media—mainly newspapers, magazines, and TV—is reaching a smaller and smaller audience. These people are increasingly just talking to, and writing for, each other.
They have less and less credibility. They’re being replaced by tens of thousands of bloggers and editors on the Internet. There was a time when I thought it would be great to raise the money to buy Slime Magazine, or Newspeak, and reform them. I wouldn’t bother today; they’ve become completely irrelevant.
Of course a lot of what’s on the Internet is either crazy or completely unreliable. But that tends to make people more skeptical, more discriminating. Which is good.
JB: In keeping with our scoring system, were you to grade the U.S.A of 2018 for Freedom of the Press, what would you give a) the government and b) the people it claims to represent?
DC: You’ve got to be even more cautious about what you write or publish than what you say in most countries in the world today, simply because it lasts a long time, and constitutes hard evidence. China, and the whole Islamic world get an F. Most other places a C at best.
The US Government stays out of the press from an overt point of view. It’s better than in the 50’s and even the 60’s, when publications like Playboy, and books like Tropic of Cancer were censored. On the other hand, look what they’re doing to Julian Assange and Wikileaks. Let me give it an Incomplete for a grade—we’ll know more soon.
The same goes for the Culture. But it doesn’t look good. The average American isn’t just uninformed or misinformed. He’s apathetic
JB: Thanks again for your insights, Doug. We’ll pick up the conversation again next week, when we visit the Freedom to Assembly and to Petition for Redress. Until then, cheers!
DC: Freedom to Assemble—perhaps meeting with friends could be in jeopardy. Petitioning for Redress—sounds like something a serf might have to do if his master beats him.
I can’t wait.
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